AIDS breakthrough: Gel helps prevent infection

Jul 19, 2010 By MARILYNN MARCHIONE , AP Medical Writer

Researchers are reporting a breakthrough against AIDS. A vaginal gel containing an AIDS drug cut in half a woman's chances of getting HIV from an infected partner.

The results need to be confirmed, and scientists disagree about whether this amount of protection is enough to justify using the gel now. But it is the first hope of protection for women if their partners refuse to use condoms.

Results of the South African study are being presented at the International AIDS Conference in Vienna and were published online Monday by the journal Science.

"It's the first time we've ever seen any microbicide give a positive result that you could say was statistically significant," said Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

The gel, spiked with the AIDS drug tenofovir, cut the risk of HIV infection by 50 percent after one year of use and 39 percent after 2 1/2 years, compared to a gel that contained no medicine.

In the study, women used the gel only 60 percent of the time; those who used it more often had higher rates of protection, and researchers said this is the key to improving effectiveness, not changing the gel.

The gel also cut in half the chances of getting HSV-2, the herpes virus that causes genital warts.

Even partial protection is a huge victory that could be a boon not just in poor countries but for couples anywhere when one partner has the AIDS virus and the other does not, said Dr. Salim Abdool Karim, the South African researcher who led the study. In the U.S., nearly a third of new infections each year are among heterosexuals, he noted.

The gel is in limited supply; it was made for this and another ongoing study from a drug donated by California-based Gilead Sciences Inc., which sells tenofovir in pill form as Viread.

The study tested it in 889 heterosexual women in and near Durban, South Africa. Half were given the microbicide and the others, a dummy gel. Women were told to use it 12 hours before sex and as soon as possible within 12 hours afterward.

At the study's end, there were 38 HIV infections among the microbicide group versus 60 in the others.

The gel seemed safe - only mild diarrhea was slightly more common among those using it. Surveys showed that the vast majority of women found it easy to use and said their partners didn't mind it. And 99 percent of the women said they would use the gel if they knew for sure that it prevented HIV.

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User comments : 9

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Ironfool
5 / 5 (3) Jul 19, 2010
Does anyone else see something incredibly unethical about this testing method? Or am I missing something?
Szkeptik
5 / 5 (2) Jul 19, 2010
What's wrong with it? If it was formerly approved for human testing than this is a simple field test. The participants would have had sex and contacted the virus anyway.
Alphakronik
not rated yet Jul 19, 2010
What's wrong with it? If it was formerly approved for human testing than this is a simple field test. The participants would have had sex and contacted the virus anyway.


How about the fact that they infected non-HIV infected females for the chance to see if a new drug works.

I wonder what kind of compensation they were given, if any.

John_balls
5 / 5 (2) Jul 19, 2010
What I find is that I think women will use this has a full proof method against aids which it isn't. Please just use condoms or don't do it.
internationalist
not rated yet Jul 19, 2010
"The gel also cut in half the chances of getting HSV-2, the herpes virus that causes genital warts."

Just a quibble, but HSV-2 does not cause genital warts, it causes genital herpes.
Ethelred
not rated yet Jul 20, 2010
This is the standard for testing. It isn't unethical assuming the people were going to have sex anyway. If you can figure out a better way to be sure the effects are real and not a placebo effect you will have done the world of medicine a very large favor.

Yes it is disturbing that 38 people were infected with HIV. However if their behavior is the same as it would have been without the gel then the real point is that over twenty people weren't infected that otherwise would have.

The article didn't say whether condoms were used or not. Either they were or HIV is harder to get than I thought. There were 889 people in the test.

Ethelred
Oigen
not rated yet Jul 20, 2010
The 50% risk reduction is a percentage reckoned in relative terms. In absolute terms it is only a 5% reduction which could easily be merely due to chance and therefore perfectly useless. After decades of effort with countless billions spent more research is required for confirmation? Of course. And more money please.

Read more: http://www.cbc.ca...uDnrrmWf
Skeptic_Heretic
not rated yet Jul 20, 2010
The article didn't say whether condoms were used or not. Either they were or HIV is harder to get than I thought. There were 889 people in the test.
Depends. For men it's a bit more difficult during heterosexual sex as long as we're not in direct blood to blood contact. The scare provided by AIDS and HIV education was over the top, but in a good way. The issue I see here is the assumption that all participants were being put in the path of infection, that may simply be a failure of understanding due to how vague the article is.
ellecon
not rated yet Jul 20, 2010
Testing the gel in Durban is not unethical, it is simply logical, as South Africa has the world's highest rates of HIV infection.

@Alphakronik: No person was intentionally infected, they were just given a gel to be used during intercourse. Whether they used condoms or even had
intercourse was an individual choice.

@John_balls: Some men refuse to use condoms and some women are pressured, manipulated, or forced into accepting this choice.